LAC BEAUPORT, Que. — It’s a little smaller, way more stylish and a bit less expensive than its predecessor. The 2018 GMC Terrain is no minor redesign.

“There are no carryover computer chips, body parts or controls,” said Mark Alger, brand manager for GMC sport-utility vehicles. “When I say everything is new on the Terrain, I mean everything.”

Like its mass-market cousin, the Chevrolet Equinox, the Terrain has received a complete rethink for 2018. Gone is the boxy, chunky body of old. Gone is any notion of installing a V-6 engine. Gone is any notion of a stripped-down base model.

Gone, too, is the shift lever, replaced by a mechanism featuring five pushbuttons and two pull levers: you pull on the levers to engage drive or reverse, you push on buttons to select park, neutral or to manually select gears.

The electronic precision shifter, as GMC calls it, works well but is arguably too low in the dash. Put a water bottle in the cupholder or something in the storage bin and it’s a bit of a reach-around to get to the shifter.

Social media is rife with complaints — too confusing, prefer a shift lever, etc. Can’t argue with preferences, but in 17 years reviewing cars, I’ve regularly come across many things that initially were ‘confusing.’ The confusion vanished after the first few days. Eventually, it becomes second-nature.

The exterior design is very striking, with a swept, floating roofline, blackout glass and a prominent grille.

Inside, GMC has introduced some neat touches, including remote levers near the tailgate for folding the rear seats, a cellphone-sized shelf above the glovebox for a passenger’s cellphone and an infotainment system that works just like a smartphone, with swiping, pinching and unpinching actions designed to be intuitive.

Ditching the V-6 option allowed engineers to dramatically lighten the chassis: now, the heaviest engine the bay will house is a 2.0-litre turbo. Other options include a 1.5-litre gas turbo and a 1.6-litre turbo diesel.

As far as the three engines go, the one to get, in my view, is the 2.0-litre turbo. That’s not just because it’s the most powerful, it also endows the Terrain with its highest towing capacity, 3,500 pounds. Get the diesel or the 1.5 gas engine and towing drops to 1,500 pounds.

Diesel engines have come a long way in the last 10 years. Most are quiet and the difference between a diesel and a gas engine can be barely imperceptible at times. This is not that kind of a diesel.

It’s not deafeningly loud, but it’s not the quietest, either. As well, the sound of marbles rolling around the engine bay is pronounced when you’re standing outside the car.

It also isn’t designed for towing, as most diesels are, but for fuel economy. Which says a lot about the type of customer GMC is expecting.

Terrain, as the kissing cousin of Equinox, highlights most clearly the difference between the GMC and Chevrolet business models. GMC is positioning itself as a premium product, and as such, the Terrain comes much more well-equipped out of the box than Equinox, for which the entry price is a key target.

“It has premium materials, USB-C 3.0, a sophisticated infotainment system,” said Ryan O’Neill, assistant brand manager, GMC SUVs. “What you won’t find is a stripped-down base model.”

Even the base model ($30,195) gets, in Canada, at least, what are typically added-cost options as standard equipment: heated seats, remote start, dual-zone climate control and OnStar 4G LTE wifi hotspot.

Headlight technology is, at a minimum, high-intensity discharge. No halogens were harmed in the production of any 2018 Terrain. The Denali gets LED headlights. All Terrain models get LED technology for the signature, C-shaped daytime running lights, and all get LED rear taillights.

Where the eyebrows start to rise is at the top of the price lineup. The Denali starts at $41,695, and packages can push that to close to $50,000. At that point, it’s worth noting luxury models, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lexus NX, Jaguar F-Pace and even the Porsche Macan start to come into view.

A choice of all-wheel or front-wheel drive is available on the two smaller engines while the 2.0 is paired with all-wheel drive only.

Each gas engine gets a nine-speed automatic transmission while the diesel gets a six-speed automatic.

The specs

  • Model: 2018 GMC Terrain
  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbo, 1.6-litre turbodiesel, 2.0-litre turbo
  • Power: 170 hp @ 5,600 r.p.m. (1.5); 137 hp @ 3,750 r.p.m. (1.6d); 252 hp @ 5,500 r.p.m. (2.0)
  • Torque: 203 lb.-ft. @ 2,000-4,000 r.p.m. (1.5); 240 lb.-ft. @ 2,000 r.p.m. (1.6d); 260 lb.-ft. @ 2,500-4,500 r.p.m. (2.0)
  • Transmission: six-speed automatic (diesel); nine-speed automatic (both gas engines)
  • Brakes: four-wheel discs
  • Steering: electric power rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension: MacPherson strut with coil springs, direct-acting stabilizer bar (front); four-link independent (rear)
  • Fuel economy (l/100 km, city/highway): 9.2 / 7.9 (1.5, FWD); 9.6 / 8.3 (1.5,AWD); 8.5 / 6.0 (1.6d FWD); 8.5 / 6.1 (1.6d AWD); 11.2 / 9.0 (2.0, AWD).
  • Price: $30,195 (1.5t); $34,195 (1.6); $37,697 (2.0t, AWD); $41,695 (Denali), base MSRP